The Australian federal government has announced changes to the 457 visa programme which will allow foreign workers who fill much needed labour gaps to gain permanent residency in the country much easier.
What is the 457 visa?
The 457 visa programme is a skilled temporary business visa which allows holders to live and work in Australia on a temporary basis, in order to qualify for the 457 visa, you need to be sponsored by an Australian employer.
An employer must secure permission to sponsor potential employees but a 457 visa does not expire when the sponsor's permission to endorse expires.
The majority of 457 holders can also typically apply for permanent residency while during the term of their visa.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen
announced the changes
What are the changes?
Speaking at the Law Council Australia’s 2012 CPD Immigration Conference, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced reforms to Australia visa policy which will feature a new 'fast-tracked' system for the employer-sponsored category of Australian visa. The changes, expected to be rolled out on 1, July of this year include increasing the minimum applicant age from 45 to 50 and the removal of language tests for some occupations.
Mr Bowen said the changes would allow willing workers to remain in much needed positions.
"We know these workers can do the job and are ready to make a commitment to Australia, so it makes sense to streamline their pathway to permanent residence," said Mr Bowen.
The booming mining industry has caused a growing shortage of skilled labourers working in Australia; expanding mining and engineering companies need more workers while Australian citizens leaving their current positions for jobs in the mining industry have left labour gaps in others, most notably the tourism and hospitality industries.
The announced reforms aim to tackle those widening gaps and come just days after the chief executive of one of Australia’s largest mining corporations, Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh, said skilled labour shortages was one of the biggest issues facing Australia's continued economic growth.
"An efficient and flexible skilled migration programme is one solution but more broadly we need to ensure we're an attractive proposition for job seekers."
Australia's growing mine industry is in need
Why are they needed?
The proposed changes are likely to improve Australia's reputation as an employment destination as the restrictions on temporary workers remaining in the country indefinitely are significantly relaxed: holders of an Australian 457 visa will no longer have to complete a second skills test or an English test in order to become eligible to apply for residency.
Mr Bowen further explained that the six categories of employer-sponsored visa which make up the current system will be reduced to two simplified categories: the Employer Nomination Scheme and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. Both of these categories will then be integrated into the new SkillSelect programme which will also launch in July.
- Integrating the six permanent categories into two new categories: Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS)
- Including the ENS and RSMS into SkillSelect
- Adjusting language and skill requirements for certain occupations
- Increasing the age limit for applicants from 45 to 50
The announcements have so far been met with a mixed reception, although response from industry representatives has largely been positive. Gary Brack, chief executive of the Australian federation of Employers and Industries said:
"One of the most important aspects of this is the speed with which you can actually make the transition. Employers get caught short in the market if they can't recruit somebody. A lot of them are desperate to get people at a particular time. So if it can expedited in the way that it's been discussed, then that will certainly be advantageous."
The Australian opposition, who have been vocally critical of the government's immigration policies in recent weeks, have claimed the proposed changes do not go far enough to allow skilled migrants to fill the labour gap.
"The government abolished the regional concessions for 457s when they came to government, which was a major and important programme, particularly for small and regional businesses," said opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison.
"The government has not restored those concessions."
What this means for you
Leonie Cotton, casework department manager here at the Australian Visa Bureau, says the changes will be great for people considering making the move to Australia:
"Raising the age limit to 50 will give plenty of people who felt they'd missed their chance the opportunity to move to Australia and the speed we should be able to manage applications under the new system will make that dream easier to achieve.
Australia's mining industry is growing so fast and the Australian economy is expanding so quickly, that positions are being newly created and need to be filled at a great rate and it will be 457 holders that meet Australia's demand."
- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau
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